In a rematch of the 2006 BCS National Championship the Gators and Buckeyes will both look to avoid their first losing seasons since 1979 and 1988, respectively (not counting 2010 when Ohio State vacated their wins due to the TattooGate scandal).
The biggest storyline of the game has nothing to do with the 2011 season and everything to do with history. In late November Urban Meyer was named as the next head coach at Ohio State after taking a year off from coaching to work for ESPN as an analyst.
Meyer was the coach of the Gators from 2005-2010, where he won two National championships in 2006 and 2008 and guided the Gators to a 65-15 record.
Dan “Boom” Herron was suspended for the first six games of the season in relation to the tattoo scandal that cost the Buckeyes not only their star QB Terrelle Pryor, but longtime head coach Jim Tressel. When he finally was able to play, he made the most of the remaining six games, rushing for 596 yards and three TDs.
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In Ohio State’s best win of the year, a 33-29 victory over eventual Big Ten Champion Wisconsin, Herron ran for a season-high 160 yards. The Buckeyes have relied on the run this year as evident by freshman QB Braxton Miller’s 997 passing yards, 11 TDs and four INTs to his 695 yards and seven TDs on the ground. The Buckeyes have only three players that have caught over 10 passes this year.
Defensively, Ohio State has been solid, allowing an FBS 27th-best 20.8 points per game and a 15th-best 186.2 passing yards. Ohio State has struggled against the run, allowing 142.42 yards per game, ranked 55th. DE John Simon recorded seven sacks and 15 tackles for a loss and was one of three Buckeyes named to either first or second team All-Big Ten.
After one year under Will Muschamp, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis left the Gators to take the head coach position at Kansas and Brian White was named interim offensive coordinator for the Gator Bowl. Muschamp has not named an offensive coordinator, saying he will wait until after the bowl game to begin the search. Muschamp has had a difficult first year, guiding Florida to .500 for the first time since 1987.
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Last year John Brantley had large shoes to fill taking over the starting QB job from the iconic Tim Tebow, but wasn’t productive in Meyer’s and former OC Steve Addazio’s spread option. In his senior campaign, Brantley struggled in Weis’ pro offense passing for only 1,912 yards, 10 TDs and six INTs as well as suffering several injuries throughout the season. In his absence, the Gators used freshmen Jeff Driskel (148 yards, 2 INTs) and Jacoby Brissett (206 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs) with very little success.
Weis attempted to utilize his speedy senior RBs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey who combined for 1,329 yards and eight TDs on the ground this season, but the smaller-build duo had difficulty running up the middle against bigger, stronger defenses like Alabama and LSU. However, both runners are a threat to take it the distance at any time. Receiver Andre Debose led all receivers with 423 yards and four TDs on just 15 catches, while Rainey and TE Jordan Reed tied for the most catches with 28. When the season began, it looked as if Florida’s front seven would be one of the most dominant in the FBS, but when the SEC schedule hit, the youth and inexperience as well as adapting to Muschamp’s 3-4 was prevalent and a clear leader never emerged.
The Gators’ ended the regular season with the nation’s 25th ranked scoring defense with 20.6 points allowed per game and the 10th ranked passing defense at 167.3 yards per game, but struggled against the run, allowing 132.33 ypg (40th).
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